‘You got to earn it’: Roquan Smith embraces what it means to be great Bears LB

Bears rookie linebacker Roquan Smith is well aware of the special fraternity he has joined. But every day Smith walks into Halas Hall, he’s hit with reminders.

Beyond the statue of George Halas and through the entryway with the giant Bears logo, there’s a new display honoring Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher in the corner of the main lobby.

RELATED STORIES
From Roquan Smith to Elijah Norris, Bears’ Matt Nagy giving everyone a fair shot
Bears being cautious with second-round pick Anthony Miller’s foot

You can’t miss it. Urlacher’s jersey — his No. 54 — can be seen outside through the lobby’s glass walls and by walking Halas Hall’s brick-paved sidewalks.

Bears linebacker Roquan Smith meets the media at rookie minicamp. (AP)

“Many legends here,” Smith said of the Bears’ history of great linebackers.

Smith, of course, is expected to be the next one.

“I expect a lot of myself, as well,” he said.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky is the face of the franchise. He is directly tied to general manager Ryan Pace, who staked his career on him in the 2017 draft, and coach Matt Nagy, who was hired to turn him into a franchise-changing quarterback.

Still, Smith is in a unique situation with the Bears. He’s in the spotlight not only because of his draft status but also because of the position he plays. He has a legacy to uphold for the McCaskey family, fans and even the media.

Following in the footsteps of Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Mike Singletary, Dick Butkus and Bill George simply is not the same as following Jay Cutler, Jim McMahon and Sid Luckman.

Similar to Urlacher, the spotlight doesn’t suit Smith. He doesn’t like it, but he seems to accept it. Smith should be the first defensive player to meet the media regularly in news-conference settings since Briggs did it under former coach Marc Trestman. John Fox’s teams didn’t feature such a player.

“I’m not a huge spotlight guy,” Smith said. “I’m not a flashy guy or anything like that, more reserved.”

Smith’s reserved demeanor surely will be tested. It already was when his Bears-issued iPad, college jerseys and other items were stolen from his car in Georgia.

When Smith met the media for the Bears’ rookie minicamp, he opened with a statement, saying he was grateful for the police’s assistance in finding his belongings and that he will learn from it.

Smith was able to genuinely laugh when asked if he had received a new iPad from the Bears, a positive sign for a player who should understand that he’ll be watched as closely off the field as he is on it.

“I should be having one pretty soon,” Smith said.

In the early going, Nagy said he wants to see Smith take “command of the huddle” and be a leader. Over time, Nagy expects Smith to play faster as he familiarizes himself with his place and responsibilities in coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense.

“We know he’s a good player,” Nagy said. “But how does he take to this defense?”

In other words, the pressure already is on Smith to be the Bears’ next great linebacker.

“He’s going to embrace it, and he understands also, though, that he just went from a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond,” Nagy said. “For him, he’s got to know that. You have to be able to come in here and show what you can do.

“Just because you were the No. 8 pick in the draft, it doesn’t mean you just walk into this thing. You got to earn it. We’ve made that clear to everybody.”

If Smith needs it, he can turn to the great Bears linebackers before him for advice. Some already have reached out to him. As a Butkus Award winner at Georgia, Smith established a connection with Butkus.

“It’s great to try to come in and do something special,” Smith said. “But I’ll just be the best player I can be.”